Words as Weapons: Shakespeare 101

Today continues the series ‘Shakespeare 101’, my preferred way to kick off a unit of Shakespeare in the Drama or English classroom. 

Exercise 2: ‘Words as Weapons’ is an adaptation of The Globe Theatre’s exercise of the same title. I’ve shortened it here in the interests of time in the classroom. 

You can find the extended version, and other great exercises in Fiona Banks’ book Creative Shakespeare The Globe Education Guide to Practical Shakespeare

Introduction: Thought Experiment can be found here.

Exercise 1: Archetypes can be found here. 

Check out the whole Shakespeare 101 series for more exercises that can be used separately as warm ups at the beginning of a lesson. You may also like to use it in conjunction with the other exercises in this series as part of a one hour introduction to Shakespeare as theatre at the beginning of a unit of work. I have used Romeo and Juliet as the text example here as this is often the play chosen as an introduction in Australian schools.

When should I use this exercise?

This exercise is a great way of introducing the text in Shakespeare’s plays in a way that is physical and easy for beginners to engage with.

How can I adapt this to my classroom space?

This exercise works well in an open space. If you have a classroom with desks and chairs you could still do this exercise but adapt by having the student call someone’s name before firing the ‘word as weapon’ so that the focus of the action is clear. This is an alternative to lining students up in two facing lines.

Step by Step Instructions:

Step 1:

Have students pair up and form two lines so that each student is facing their partner. There should be as much distance as possible between the lines. This is to allow the students space to really get into the exercise.

Step 2:

Students take turns firing their weapon of choice at their partner. This is mimed at first. Some may choose, for example, a bow and arrow, others may choose a slingshot. Encourage creativity here in order to help the students to have fun and relax. Give them a chance to try out a few different options. Each blow of course needs a reaction. Encourage students to make these as exuberant as they can. The reaction should match the force of the blow (or be greater than it, never less than the initial strike).

Step 3:

Students now add a sound to accompany their physical action. The teacher may like to single out a couple of enthusiastic students as examples here.

Step 4:

Add one line of dialogue for each line. This could be any line for the play that is used in a scene revolving around conflict.

Line suggestion from Romeo and Juliet Act I, Scene v: 

Tybalt: I’ll not endure him.

Capulet: He shall be endured.

Step 5:

Students then choose one word that they think carries the greatest weight. Which word can be used to cause the most damage? This single word can be hurled at their opponent.

Step 6:

Have the students decide who is the winner in this contest. Does their choice align with the play? This could provoke further discussion in a later lesson as you reach the scene used.

Extension Option 1 –

Use a number of lines from the text as you move down the line of students. For this exercise I would suggest using Tybalt’s lines collected from various scenes in the play (see PDF for this). 

Extension Option 2 –

Consider how words that are not outright insults can be used to wound. For example, the word ‘Fine’ could be used to strike a blow, or simply speaking another character’s name, or speaking of something that shouldn’t be offensive. You could use ‘Peace, I hate the word’ spoken by Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet. What other words do we use as insults without actually saying something overtly offensive? (‘Fine then, Mum. I’ll clean my room.’)

The instructions and supporting dialogue for this exercise can be downloaded in PDF form here.

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